So it turns out that having a lifespan measured in centuries and ears that could put an eye out tends to make people a bit smug. When those people grow up in a society preaching the virtues of biological modification, the enslavement of other races, and demon worship, smug can quickly turn into a much more dangerous sense of superiority, and that’s where we find the drow.
Drow are a playable race of humanoids, with 4 hit points to start, a +2 bonus in Dexterity and Charisma with a corresponding -2 penalty in Strength. Like most races, they have darkvision with a 60 foot range, and like elves they are immune to sleep effects and have a +2 to saving throws against all enchantment spells and effects. Keen Senses gives them a +2 to perception, but their core bonus is Drow Magic. This gives them the dancing lights and detect magic cantrips for free and lets them take feats as if they already had the Minor Psychic Power feat. In addition, if they ever do take the Minor Psychic Power feat, they can add Limning Light (Su) to the list of options to pick from, an ability only found in the pre-statted drow noble NPC. Limning Light has a range of 100 feet and causes all creatures and objects in a 5-foot radius to glow with pale light. This light inflicts a -20 on Stealth checks, prevents affected targets from taking bonuses from darkness and neutralizes the effects of invisibility on any target affected so long as it is active. This effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to the caster’s CR.
Drow first originated from Gygax’s work on D&D, mentioned in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual in 1977. Before this, the concept of drow has two roots. One is the word itself, an old Orcadian word for malignant fairies or troll. The other in the concept of dark elves first found in the Old Norse Prose Edda.
Their popularity, on the other hand, originates with R. A. Salvatore’s works featuring Drizzt Do’Urden. The character was an interesting creation based in the lore of drow culture, showing both how that culture itself worked and an example of an interesting character that could be spawned from it (plus the books themselves were just plain good, even outside of their RPG roots). As a result, drow rose rapidly in popularity, becoming one of the many monsters brought over into Pathfinder and serving a major role in particular regions of the Golarion setting.
That’s all in the past though, and with Starfinder we want to look to the future. How, pray tell, does a matriarchal, subterranean empire of slavers, demon worshipers, and slightly-more-ruthless-than-usual politicians adapt to the final frontier? For one, the focus on slavery has fallen by the wayside. That’s not to say they don’t still look down on other races or that they’ve stopped keeping slaves, but rather their culture has progressed simply because of ruthless pragmatism. While one may not care about the wellbeing of other races, if one can get a half-dozen robots for the same price they could get a slave and with half the upkeep, they’d take the cheaper option. Mention is also made of their habit of genetic modification and selective breeding even among their own kind, making competition fierce to prove oneself and ensure a legacy. All in all, it’s the kind of culture that would make the most outright bloodthirsty empire blanch at the casual cruelty it inflicts on its own people at every level in society.
It’s very easy to use the drow as the primary villains in a setting, and frankly, it would be hard to interpret them as anything even approaching good guys. Instead, try using them as a “lesser of two evils” if you want them to be anything but pure antagonists. They may be ruthless, arrogant, and generally the kind of people that every other nation would happily team up against, but they’re still marginally better than the literal fiends that are waging a war of extermination on every living thing. That disregard for life would make them exactly the kind of people willing to write off their own for the sake of the war, mutate soldiers into weapons of war, and reanimate their casualties as undead and bone golems to keep fighting. If you’re looking for something more specific or unusual for the drow, here’s a few plot hooks to use them in your game.
- The once regal drow have been felled by the destruction of their homeworld. The remnants of their mighty empire were quickly subsumed by their rivals and the drow themselves relegated to a slave caste. In modern times there are few alive who remember the days where the drow were the scourge of the stars, knowing the indigo-skinned elves only as servants and sycophants. The drow themselves have not forgotten, and many chambermaids and chauffeurs once held positions of power before their current role. Having outlived their original conquerors, they will soon begin the final stages of the plan they set in motion at the dusk of their own empire, aiming to decapitate the throne and take control of the empire for themselves.
- The drow are well known for their worship of a spider deity, though whether god or demon is up for debate. What few realize outside of the inner circle of their church, even among their own people, is that they do not worship the weaver, but the web. The god is merely a figurehead for a sprawling metaphysical plan orchestrated by something that predates the universe itself. The drow do not know the ultimate goal of the plan, nor the identity or its creator, but their entire society has been shaped by its intrusions, every drow merely a cog in the unfathomably complex machine whether they choose to obey or deviate.
- Drow enjoy mutating and deforming those who have wronged them, and they hold spiders in holy reverence. In a sick fusion of the two, they often warp their captives into monsters bearing arachnid features on a humanoid form or fuse multiple prisoners together into something spider-like in shape but horribly similar to its component creatures. The resulting abominations are used as living symbols of worship, serving as both altar, symbol, and guardian of the shines they come to occupy.